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School Board Seat C candidates answer questions

Dustin Darden

Occupation: Carpenter

Spouse name: Brittany Darden

1. Why are you running?

I am running to encourage reading of the Holy Bible.

Bob Griffin

Party affiliation: No party affiliation

Occupation: Airline pilot

Employment history: Military pilot 1978-1998 (Retired), Airline pilot 1998 to present

Previous public or community offices held (with dates):

One of the founding members of the Municipal Taxpayers League of Anchorage 2008. Education: Bachelor's Degree Aeronautics 1984, Embry-Riddle University Spouse name: Chen Griffin Children's ages and where they attend school: Victoria 27, UAA, Chugiak HS, Gruening MS, Hanshew MS, various public schools in Texas, California and England. Amanda 23, University of Chicago, West HS, Romig MS, Rogers Park, Ravenwood, Bowman, various public schools in Texas and California.

Website: GriffinForAnchorage.com

Email: griffinforanchorage@yahoo.com

Question 1. Why are you running?

Answer: I'm a strong public education advocate who knows we can have much higher student achievement by focusing our ample resources better. We have not been getting the results we deserve from a school budget that is rapidly approaching $1 billion per year. The School Board has diverted too many resources away from quality classroom instruction for administrative costs and elaborate construction projects that don't contribute to achieving great results for our kids.

Question 2. What's the biggest problem facing Anchorage schools?

Answer: Resources are not focused at the classroom level. In the latest independent auditors report, published in Oct 2010, general administrative costs increased by $4,621,082, up 26 percent. That's equivalent to 18,400 netbook computers in classrooms. Since 1996, the district has added 10 new schools at a cost of $326,285,000 and 1,786,974 square feet of new floor space even though non-charter school enrollment has declined by over 1,000 students.

Question 3. Which is more important, an increase in base state funding for schools, or funding Gov. Sean Parnell's proposed scholarships for students with acceptable grades and courses?

Answer: I support Governor Parnell's proposed scholarships program for students but neither is more important than the other.

Question 4. How good a job is Carol Comeau doing?

Answer: Many times the superintendant unfairly takes the blame for poor choices made by the board. I think many of Ms. Comeau critics don't understand that she works at the direction of the School Board. With 20 years of public service myself, I can spot a dedicated public servant. She has done a good job of implementing the directives of School Board without pinning blame on them when their choices go badly.

Question 5. Rank the following in importance, and comment on your choices please:

Answer: D. Expanding vocational-education programs is my highest priority on this list. This is probably one of the best ways to keep students at-risk of dropping-out engaged.

C. Reduce class size. Especially in K-3. Our class sizes are too large. We don't need to add anymore teachers. We have 3,690 teachers. That's a teacher for every 13 students.

B. Offering comprehensive summer schools is good use of expensive facilities.

E. This is not something a School Board member can do. The community decides the level that they will support the schools and the assembly, state and federal government control the purse strings. H. Separate high school counselors for students at risk of dropping out.

I. Maintaining police officers in high schools.

G. Library aides.

F. Helping middle schoolers explore careers and set goals. A. Adding pre-schools to public schools.

Question 6. School district spending is up 75 percent in the past 10 years. The 2011-2012 budget is $812 million, up from $789 million this year. What do you think about the rate of increase?

Answer: The rate of increase is disturbing, since the non-charter school enrollment is currently below the levels of 1993/94 when the budget was $337,710,098. Even more disturbing is the lack of support for the many charter schools that significantly out-perform the mainstream schools with roughly half the per student funding . It's School Board policy to not allocate any money for transporting charter students, even though the state has provided $407/student, (including charter students) for transportation.

Question 7. Nearly 90 percent of the School District's general fund pays for people.

Answer: As a School Board member, what directions would you give the administration regarding teacher and other contract negotiations? Our best teachers should be paid more. More importantly, they should be teaching. Too many of our valuable educators are occupied with tasks that don't provide as much value to the schools as teaching our kids. We only have 13 students per teacher and the School Board has voted two years in a row in increase class sizes. Increased class sizes cannot have a positive effect on student achievement.

Question 8. If you had to make significant cuts to programs, where would you start?

Answer: Administrative costs must be reduced. Along with that, the processes for determining the quantity, scope and prioritization of capital improvements must be revamped. To many our capital improvements are drive by emotion rather than well analyzed data-driven decisions and demonstrated needs. Excess school capacity should be made available to meet the demand of the 1000+ kids on waiting lists for charter schools or alternative programs. Much more on this at GriffinForAnchorage.com

Question 9. What major step would you propose for improving our schools?

Answer: We must refocus our resources back in the classroom. With slimmed down administration and more economical building designs we will have money left over for leveraging new technology and techniques that will substantially improve student performance. We will have money left over to fund better vocational education for older students who are at high-risk of dropping out because the standard college prep track is not appropriate for their needs. GriffinForAnchorage.com for more details

Question 10. Numbers of poor, homeless and neglected children are rising in Anchorage schools. How should the district respond to this change?

Answer: Poverty is a serious problem in Anchorage and it's clear that kids in poverty do not perform as well in school. That said, poverty is much less of a problem for our schools than for any almost other large School District in the country because Anchorage has one of the very lowest and most stable poverty rates in the U.S. This is a complicated topic. Much greater detail at my website GriffinForAnchorage.com

Question 11. What volunteer work have you done in schools?

Answer: I have coached girls high school varsity softball and tennis. I'm a big supporter organized athletics provide many great life lessons about teamwork and competition. This is an opportunity that too many of our youth miss out on, especially our young women.

Pat Higgins

Party affiliation: Democrat

Occupation: Human Resources Management

Employment history: 35 years public and private sector HR management including hospitals, nuclear and oil industry

Previous public or community offices held (with dates):

Board Member, Abbott Loop Community Council 2006 to 2008 , Anchorage School Board 2008-2011

Education: BS Personnel Management

Spouse name: Patti

Children's ages and where they attend school:

Gavin 32, Rachael 31, Tara 28 All attend Anchorage Schools. Denail, Baxter, Windler, Steller

Website: Pathiggins4schoolboard.com

Email: Phiggins49@gmail.com

Question 1. Why are you running? Answer: I want to continue promoting real with a new board. I am one of four board nembers in their first term, and board directives I am leading include expanding career technology, cuts to administration, a new budget system linking funding with outcomes, measuring academic advancement for every student every year, and an external review of low achieving curriculum. During the past three years, dropout rate has declined 30 percent, graduation rates increased 10 percent.

Question 2. What's the biggest problem facing Anchorage schools? Answer: Forty percent of children entering kindergarten are not prepared to learn, and many of these children are promoted each year academically unprepared for higher grades. We must have early and effective intervention to bring all students up to appropriate academic levels and stop social promotions. This year, all elementary students academically behind will be able to attend summer school for the first time. And we will begin evaluating academic advancement of every student, every year.

Question 3. Which is more important, an increase in base state funding for schools, or funding Gov. Sean Parnell's proposed scholarships for students with acceptable grades and courses? Answer: I believe these are mutually exclusive, since the governor has proposed a one-time funding for an endowment fund for scholarships. However, I believe additional funding to the Base Student Allocation from the state is more important. The state should be increasing funding for education without passing this cost to the local taxpayers.

Question 4. How good a job is Carol Comeau doing? Answer: Carol's evaluation should be based on her meeting the goals of the School Board. I believe Carol deserved outstanding evaluations, but past goals of the board were inadequate. The board adopted a number of board directives this year that I proposed, including a new budget program, measuring academic performances of classrooms, expanding Career Technology. The new board is challenging Carol and the administration to higher standards, and I believe they'll successfully meet the new goals.

Question 5. Rank the following in importance, and comment on your choices please: Answer: 1. Maintaining police officers in high schools. In the three years I have been on the board, the police have responded to serious assaults, weapons, a pipe bomb, and gang activity. Nothing is more important than providing a safe environment for all our students.

2. Expanding vocational-technical programs. These programs help students learn, keep students in school, and help students prepare for careers after high school. Employment is important for success in life.

3. Offering comprehensive summer schools, k-12. Last year elementary students attending summer school had a 19 percent academic score improvement. We cannot continue to advance students each year without interventions to bring them up to proper grade level, like summer school

4. Separate high school counselors for students at risk of dropping out

In the past three years, reducing drop outs has been a high priority and high school graduation coaches have helped reduce dropouts over 30 percent, equal to 340 more students remaining in school. Graduation rates have risen over 10 percent.

5. Adding teachers to reduce class size This year I voted against increasing classroom size and will continue to oppose it. We cannot continue to increase classroom sizes when we have a funding deficit and not reduce classroom sizes when we have additional funding.

6. Helping middle schoolers explore careers and set goals. Students need to understand the importance of education, its connection to employment, and have a plan after high school. Helping students early understand there are careers that connect to things they find interesting is important to keeping students in school.

7. Library Aides. Library Aides provide a very valuable service in all our schools. Without aides, access to libraries are limited in time and assistance to students.

8. Cutting the budget to lower property taxes.

The Assembly determines property taxes, not the School Board. My priority is to maximize the value of every public dollar and helping all students graduate, prepared for success in life. I believe if we achieve a 100 percent graduation rate, the public would not be upset with the size of the School District budget.

9. Adding pre-schools to public schools. I definitely believe many children desperately need pre-school. 40 percent of children entering kindergarten are not academically prepared. However, I do not believe we are equipped to provide pre-schools to all Anchorage children and do not believe the local tax payers would support this expense. This must be funded by the state.

Question 6. School District spending is up 75 percent in the past 10 years. The 2011-2012 budget is $812 million, up from $789 million this year. What do you think about the rate of increase? Answer: The district cannot continue to grow at a rate of 7.5 percent per year. The 2011-12 budget increase is misleading. $16 million of the $23 million is money that is not received by ASD but money the state pays itself for unfunded retirement liabilities from the 1990s. A $7 million increase represents is less than one percent. Regardless of funding, we must do more with each dollar.

Question 7. Nearly 90 percent of the School District's general fund pays for people. As a School Board member, what directions would you give the administration regarding teacher and other contract negotiations? Answer: The Administration must limit increases to levels that can be justified based on what is needed to attract and retain a well qualified work force, and must be limited based on projected revenues. As a HR professional, I expect the administration to know what other employers are compensating similar employees. As a board member, I would direct the administration to negotiate a contract that does not exceed what we need to pay to remain competitive.

Question 8. If you had to make significant cuts to programs, where would you start? Answer: When considering cuts to programs, I weigh the impact on graduation and dropout rates, and academic scores. I believe the board should always look for opportunities to redirect funds to programs that produce greater results. My first cuts would be to administration, and we have directed cuts for next year in this area. I would not support cuts that increase classroom sizes.

Question 9. What major step would you propose for improving our schools? Answer: I have been a strong advocate and leader on the board for expanding career technology and believe it will significantly help students to learn, keep students in schools, and helps prepare students after high school for higher education and careers with good paying jobs in Alaska. I also believe we must have earlier intervention for students academically behind in elementary school. It is unacceptable to have students advance every year without being academically prepared.

Question 10. Numbers of poor, homeless and neglected children are rising in Anchorage schools. How should the district respond to this change? Answer: We have an obligation to education all children for success in life. Poor, homeless and neglected children are at greatest risk of failing without adequate intervention. We have some support for basics, including free meals and special transportation. Many of these children are academically behind and we have a number of intervention programs. However, these have not been adequate for all these students and we must redirect funds within the budget to be more successful.

Question 11. What volunteer work have you done in schools? Answer: As a parent, I was a member of PTA and assisted in school events and trips. As a School Board member, I have played a role in band and music events, graduations, spelling bees, walk safely to school events, speaking to students about government, sports events, and recognition programs.